Ex 3.4 Memory and the Gaze

This exercise might seem simple at first but as I studied it more carefully it became increasingly problematic.

I wasted quite a lot of time going off at a tangent, producing a lot of unnecessary screed because in researching the subject of the gaze online I inevitably encountered a multitude of writings which were concerned with gender representation in photographs and films.  The terms ‘male gaze’, ‘female gaze’ in these articles refer to the contents if the work and the relationships with societal norms.

This exercise isn’t about that type of gaze, it is about eyelines – whereabouts the people in the pictures are looking.  The Jonathan Schroeder quote at the top of the page refers to power relationships and I think this set me on the wrong track. Power isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the chapter.

I sought guidance and advice from various quarters but none were able to point me at any work which properly meets the brief.

In the exercise we are asked to make five pictures with these qualities:

The pictures must be portraits

The portraits should trigger memory

The people in the portraits should be shown adopting some of the aforementioned gazes

There should be a connective thread in the pictures to imply a narrative

The approach should lean towards the imaginative rather than the literal

The series must evoke a response in the viewer (rather than the photographer) which connects them emotionally to the pictures.

I approach this exercise to consider eyelines and memory.  Various writers have noted the apparent ability of the photograph to offer a glimpse into the past, a quality which seems to parallel our own ability to recall the past using our memory. Every photograph does this, it is inherent in the process.  The ability to elicit memory in the viewer will depend on the similarity of their life to that of the picture content.  The picture may prompt a recollection of the past in the present.

So I have taken a bit of a liberty with the ‘make portraits’ part by not actually taking any pictures.  I have re-purposed some pictures from my archive, cropped them to en-portrait them, concentrating on the gazes employed, the main examples of which are the returned gaze and the intra-diagetic and the audience gazes.  They are certainly connected to memory but on a very narrow primary plane, that of the experience of myself and my two children.  Other viewers may find their own memories stimulated, having had parallel childrearing experience and recognising the apparent content of the gaze.

This set is overlaid with a new gaze of my own making, the curatorial gaze; here the photographs are selected with a particular theme in mind in order to establish some internal coherence – possibly even a narrative.  This is related to but different from the editorial gaze because of the relationship between the subject, the photographer, the curator and the viewer.

I have cropped some of the pictures in a very narrow slit, the better to emphasise the direction and intensity of the gaze where possible.

In summary, this offering does meet the brief requirements but only by major contortions.  I think the requirement combines precision and opacity to the point of bafflement.  It seems I’m not alone in this, having checked out as many peer blogs as I could find.  None of them were able to satisfy the brief in every respect and where they made a good stab at it, the result is clunky and forced.  Like my own attempt.